AFTERSHOCK: Emergency workers pay tribute at a ceremony in Christchurch for victims of the earthquake. AAP images
AFTERSHOCK: Emergency workers pay tribute at a ceremony in Christchurch for victims of the earthquake. AAP images

The day the earth cracked

“WE just hit the deck, there was nothing more we could do… it was all extremely violent, we couldn’t stand up, move around or do anything… three to four inch cracks appeared in the ground and all we could do was lie there, hoping for the best.”

That is how Emerald tennis player Brian Williams described the horrific 15 seconds he spent on a Christchurch tennis court when the world came tumbling down around him.

Mr Williams left Emerald on February 19 with his sights set on international glory in the ITF World Seniors Championships, but when the 6.3 magnitude earthquake ripped through Christchurch during his opening match, destroying the very court he was standing on, his priorities quickly changed.

In the aftermath of the first tremor, players, officials and fans gathered in the open safety of the ruined parking lot at the front of the tennis centre.

Mr Williams said teams from more than 20 different countries came together as one group, where the safety and welfare of those around them became the ultimate concern.

With aftershocks occurring every hour or so, the group’s nerves remained on edge while they waited the four hours until they were given the okay to venture out into the streets and walk the distance back to their city hotels.

“It was chaotic, it looked like it was out of a movie, a very difficult thing to describe,” Mr Williams said.

“There were one to two metre cracks in the streets, some had completely collapsed, the road had just slumped away.

“There were people everywhere just trying to get from A to B, or just trying to get out of the city which was cordoned off.

“The fact that it happened in the middle of the day made it much worse because there were a lot of people in town.”

“I was lucky in that my hotel was about 2km outside of the city centre.

“Some of the others who were staying in the middle of the city lost everything, including their passports. We were very lucky when they put the waiver on Australians needing passports to get out of there.”

Despite being lucky enough to have only minor damage to his hotel, Mr Williams had to spend the next few days washing in a swimming pool, as water across the board was cut-off. He said a lot of the tennis fraternity were in evacuation centres and never even made it back to their hotels.

As for the tournament, not one of the 29 courts at the tennis club was salvageable, and the warped, rolled ground would all have to be rebuilt from scratch.

“Once the scale of the event became evident, we knew we had to abandon the tournament.

“It would have been unfair on New Zealand to carry it on in another part of the country and we knew we would have been taking up valuable resources they needed for themselves. Within a couple of hours mud and water had come up through the cracks and warped the shape of the courts.

“They renovated the hard courts specifically for this event and now it’s just a complete bulldoze job.”

Mr Williams said the mood on the streets of Christchurch over the subsequent days could only be described as supportive, and highlighted the fact that adversity brings out the best in people.

“No-one seemed to be left out, everyone stuck together and people were offering help with whatever they could.”

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